My sisters have gotten a Ph.D. in junk over the past few years while I’ve sat on the sidelines, longing for pretty much everything they’ve searched out, painted and styled.
Overall, I feel out of my league when it comes to junkin’. I’ve had a couple proud moments: We once happened upon an attic sale at a magical brick girls’ school near our old neighborhood and I scored a gigantic Persian style rug, perfectly worn to paper-thin in some areas, for $100. At the same sale, I passed on a glorious robin’s egg blue silky rug — sale price, $500 — because it was out of my price range. I have few regrets: Passing on that rug is one.
I wanted in on my sister’s secrets, so before attending “Picker Palooza” in Federal Way, Wash. last weekend, I asked my sisters for some advice. Here’s what stuck:
The line between one gal’s trash and another’s treasure is fuzzy at best
My sister’s have stories …. of, say, going to an “estate sale” and finding enough jock straps to stock a Sears … oh, and these were used jock straps. The purveyor had thoughtfully splayed them out on the rug and priced each piece individually. I’ve learned from their adventures that a good story is half the fun — and completely free. If you go in with that attitude, you can’t lose.
Get there early
There’s a myth that if you show up near the end of any sale, you can score crazy deals. In my limited experience, showing up late to a tiny country show like the one I attended means you’ll be admiring a bunch of other people’s junk with “SOLD” written on the tag. Not a good place to be.
Alison notes that a lot of pros go to bigger sales on a Saturday night and ask for 40 percent off instead of the 50 percent they’d typically offer on a Sunday. I don’t think I’m ready for that kind of sale yet. If you are, she says the first day is generally a haggle-free environment, the next day you can cut some deals, and the final day of a three-day sale is when vendors would be most likely to sell at a bargain.
If you’re wondering whether negotiating is acceptable or not, just walk around and listen for a bit while you check prices.
If you find something you like, don’t be afraid to test it out and ask questions
An elegant dresser with snazzy gold fixtures caught my eye at Picker Palooza. Before I checked the price, I checked the drawers — they all slid out and in with ease and I didn’t see a trace of particle board or cheap plastic components. Those were good clues it was a well-made piece of furniture. I did a quick calculation of how much I’d be willing to pay before checking the price tag. It was a whopping $15.
I let the owner know I’d like to buy it but would love any more information she had about it. She told me she’d painted it and had it in her own home, but it wasn’t working with her decor anymore so she priced it to sell. She also said it was a “waterfall” style piece: Popular from the 1920s-1940s, the style is marked by a rounded top edge and angular corners. I love art deco, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so that’s probably another reason for the bargain price. Either way, I got a great dresser for a steal and I know more about it than I would have figured out on my own.
When in doubt, phone a friend
I saw an rusted up old bicycle with a kickstand, wide leather seat and front basket. The tag said “Yard bike $20.” I didn’t buy it, mostly because I had no room in my car. Jenny told me later what a deal I’d missed out on. As I try to develop my sixth sense for secondhand deals, I usually keep a phone handy for texting pictures to my sisters. In this instance, I didn’t even take a photo to show you what could’ve been. Next time.
If you need to bring your kids, let them shop, too
When I walked into the grange hall chock full of antiques that smelling suspiciously perfumed, my 2 1/2-year-old said, “Is this whole toy store made of toys!” I had to keep a close eye on her, but it was worth it: She picked out a $10 desk that fits her perfectly, someone gave her a free craft bird and nest, and she had an adventure. (Side note: I’m not above bribery. Three M&Ms go a long way.)
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m happy with the purchases we made this weekend and I’m ready to hit my next sale. Do you have favorite tips and tricks for finding secondhand gold? Or some more stories about jock straps? I’m all ears.